Shame and Wonder

Essays

Publisher: Random House
For fans of John Jeremiah Sullivan, Leslie Jamison, Geoff Dyer, and W. G. Sebald, the twenty-one essays in David Searcy’s debut collection are captivating, daring—and completely unlike anything else you’ve read before. Forging connections between the sublime and the mundane, this is a work of true grace, wisdom, and joy.

Expansive in scope but deeply personal in perspective, the pieces in Shame and Wonder are born of a vast, abiding curiosity, one that has led David Searcy into some strange and beautiful territory, where old Uncle Scrooge comic books reveal profound truths, and the vastness of space becomes an expression of pure love. Whether ruminating on an old El Camino pickup truck, those magical prizes lurking in the cereal boxes of our youth, or a lurid online ad for “Sexy Girls Near Dallas,” Searcy brings his unique blend of affection and suspicion to the everyday wonders that surround and seduce us. In “Nameless,” he ruminates on spirituality and the fate of an unknown tightrope walker who falls to his death in Texas in the 1880s, buried as a local legend but without a given name. “The Hudson River School” weaves together Google Maps, classical art, and dental hygiene into a story that explores—with exquisite humor and grace—the seemingly impossible angles at which our lives often intersect. And in “An Enchanted Tree Near Fredericksburg,” countless lovers carve countless hearts into the gnarled trunk of an ancient oak tree, leaving their marks to be healed, lifted upward, and, finally, absorbed.

Haunting, hilarious, and full of longing, Shame and Wonder announces the arrival of David Searcy as an essential and surprising new voice in American writing.

Praise for Shame and Wonder

“Astonishment is a quality central to David Searcy’s Shame and Wonder. . . . What unites these twenty-one essays . . . is the sense of a wildly querying intelligence suspended in a state of awe. . . . Searcy is drawn instinctively to moments, the way parcels of time expand and contract in memory, conjuring from ordinary experience a hidden sense of all that is extraordinary in the world, in being alive.”The New York Times Book Review

“A lovely implicit argument for a particular orientation toward the world: continuous awe and wonder . . . Everywhere, David Searcy finds the strange and marvelous in careful examination of the quotidian.”—NPR

“Peculiar and lively . . . Like a down-home Roland Barthes, [Searcy’s] quirky observations and sudden narrative turns remind us of the strangeness we miss every day.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Often nostalgic and whimsical . . . brings to life the shadows of our kaleidoscopic world.”The Dallas Morning News

“What makes Searcy such a master storyteller is that he is a master observer, sharing his vision through essays that read like exquisitely crafted short stories.”San Francisco Chronicle

“In twenty-one captivatingly offbeat essays, Searcy finds the exceptional in the everyday . . . and contemplates the mysteries therein with grace and eloquence.”The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“A collection of essays laced with wisdom and beauty.”Paste

“Slyly brilliant—a self-deprecatory look at life in all its weirdness.”Austin American-Statesman

“A work of genius—a particular kind of genius, to be sure.”—Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

PRAISE FOR

“Astonishment is a quality central to David Searcy’s Shame and Wonder. . . . What unites these twenty-one essays . . . is the sense of a wildly querying intelligence suspended in a state of awe. . . . Searcy is drawn instinctively to moments, the way parcels of time expand and contract in memory, conjuring from ordinary experience a hidden sense of all that is extraordinary in the world, in being alive. . . . The novel served [Virginia] Woolf the way the essay does Searcy: as a mode within which to . . . give form to the formless, to make deeply felt and dramatic the place of each well-apprehended moment.”The New York Times Book Review
 
“A lovely implicit argument for a particular orientation toward the world: continuous awe and wonder . . . Everywhere, David Searcy finds the strange and marvelous in careful examination of the quotidian.”—NPR
 
“Peculiar and lively . . . Like a down-home Roland Barthes, [Searcy’s] quirky observations and sudden narrative turns remind us of the strangeness we miss every day.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
 
“Often nostalgic and whimsical . . . [Shame and Wonder] brings to life the shadows of our kaleidoscopic world.”The Dallas Morning News

“[Searcy] finds meaning in baseball gloves, prizes in cereal boxes, TV shows from his childhood, the story of a Jewish acrobat with a wooden leg who fell to his death while trying to walk a tightrope while carrying an iron stove on his back, an old tree carved with hearts and lovers’ initials whose growth seems to have mirrored the chronology of the lives and loves of the carvers, and the study of the Torah. Each of these topics and so many more beget dazzling asides that, of course, turn out to be integral to Searcy’s apparent topic. And that’s the point, really—what makes Searcy such a master storyteller is that he is a master observer, sharing his vision through essays that read like exquisitely crafted short stories.”San Francisco Chronicle
 
“In twenty-one captivatingly offbeat essays, Searcy finds the exceptional in the everyday . . . and contemplates the mysteries therein with grace and eloquence.”The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
 
“A collection of essays laced with wisdom and beauty.”Paste
 
“Slyly brilliant—a self-deprecatory look at life in all its weirdness.”Austin American-Statesman

Shame and Wonder is a work of genius—a particular kind of genius, to be sure, one that bides more comfortably with questions, potentialities, mysteries, and wonders than with the hard-and-fast answers that the information age has taught us to crave. How rare it is these days to commit oneself to uncertainty, but when it’s done as Searcy does it—gently, insistently, ever alert to all shades of the slapstick and tragic—the inquiry itself becomes the revelation, an object lesson in what it means to be human. If you want to know things, real things, read Shame and Wonder. It will knock you flat and lift you up.”—Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
 
“Reading David Searcy isn’t like reading anyone else. His voice is weird and it’s smart and it’s right here, oddly close, paying attention to cereal prizes and possums, to the loneliness of new bedrooms and the slow fade of hearts etched into bark. Searcy probes moments that pulse with secret electricity. His mind moves like an animal through the grass—stalking something, moving quietly, sniffing out trails—rustling as he goes, leaving everything beautifully disturbed. Following the path of his thoughts is endlessly surprising. I will keep thinking about the inquisitive intelligence of this book for the rest of my life.”—Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams
 
“David Searcy reminds us what voice means and why it’s useful. We can hear something here, something achieved and distinctive. A writer has figured out how to bring the style of his prose into near-perfect alignment with his habit of mind, and to trust the impulses of his curiosity in such a way that we seem to experience not effort but flowing thought.”—John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of Pulphead
 
“Strange, wonderful, and full of curiosity and nostalgia, David Searcy’s essays chip away at the world around us to lay bare the beauty and sadness at the heart of it all.”—Gay Talese
 
“Like a Murano glassworker, Searcy worries the surface of his subject, molds and shapes it to reveal surprising gems. The journey from inchoate glass to exquisite sculpture is nothing short of astonishing. That Searcy is an idiosyncratic writer can be seen by the first page of any one of his essays, the fact that he’s a great writer by the last.”—Rabih Alameddine, author of An Unnecessary Woman

“The essays in this debut collection . . . suggest what might happen if Stephen King somehow morphed into David Foster Wallace. . . . Meaning and mystery coexist in Searcy’s mind, and his offbeat, exciting writing will resonate with readers for whom ‘you never know’ and ‘who knew?’ might be mantras.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
 
“Offbeat, beguiling . . . Searcy’s writing is by sharp turns goofy, wry, and melancholy, [and] always curious and superbly evocative. . . . A funny, haunting journey through mysterious enlightenments.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)